The itch

7 minute read

I was out there in the water with the life jacket on. Our raft passed through two “rapids”, and now they allowed us to hang around in the chilling water and have fun. We reached a place called “Maggi point”, where you can relax and have some chai-Maggi at the side. There were some stalls over uneven rocks selling chai-Maggi. And then there were two rocks, side-by-side, both big, but one twice as bigger as the other. You guys can do cliff jumping from there, the instructor said.

Well, all of my friends were pretty satisfied with the rafting experience so far. But hey, isn’t life all about trying new things, so why not. And tbh, seeing that other people were already jumping from there, it didn’t feel too difficult. Before ordering Maggi or anything, we went out of the water and climbed up to the bigger rock. It was one of those situations where my mind tried hard to not think about it until the very last stage, after which it had no other choice. I was scared to be the first one to jump. So I let all my friends take the lead, thinking that seeing them jump will give me the missing bit of confidence to make the jump.

The jump

Then my friends jumped, one by one; they took their time before deciding to jump and definitely had their moment of thrill in those few seconds. I was standing behind motivating them, “just go for it! nothing would happen”. One by one, everyone went for it. Then there was me, left alone on the rock; it was my turn to jump. I peeked below with attention for the first time, and the rock appeared to be much higher than what I had anticipated from down below. My mind could no longer distract itself; it had to come to terms with the reality. Should I back out? But wait, my friends did it, and that seemingly weak stranger did it too, you’ll do it too! Why is this so high though? Should I be careful about how to jump? What if I slip while jumping? What if I don’t land in the right position? I should not take this long to jump; there are other guys behind me now already?

It is one of those situations where you have to make a decision, but there isn’t time at all to think it through rationally. So all you end up doing after few moments of attempting to decide rationally is asking your brain to STFU, count till 3, and just go for it! In other words, I threw rationality away, and let my emotions guide me, i.e. I went with the gut.

That’s how the rocks look from the bottom, not too high. But when you look down while standing from top of that rock, your feelings change :p

The journey downwards

It felt light, took my mind a while to make sense of how it felt like during jumping, and when it realised that the body has still not touched the water, it had its moment of panic. But of course, it knows it can’t do anything now, so all it did was give my body the signal to close my eyes. Then you hit the water. The feet go first, then arms, then the head. And there’s a sudden force of resistance acting against your free-fall now. All of the senses receive feedback. The typical water sound, the sensation of getting slightly hurt, the sudden temperature change, seeping of water into eyes, ears, nose. The mind has to adapt and make sense of all this again. It has to ensure that I stay relaxed, don’t try to breathe or swim or something, just let things play out on their own. It’s easier said than done though, the last few moments when the body is still moving down into the water are probably the worst. Because at that point, you want to breathe and shout, and you know you can’t. All you can do is have control over yourself and just stay as-is.

The journey upwards

Ultimately, the upthrust wins the battle; the body starts to float up, the anxiety level drops proportionately and turns into excitement. The worst is over, and it will only get better as long as you can hold your breath. And then you reach the surface. You breathe and shout. You immediately know that the jump was worth it, and you’re glad that you did it. Glad because it was quite an experience, glad because you’re safe, glad because you won’t have a lifelong question “what if I jumped that day?”.

The shore

As you catch your breath, your heart rate starts approaching normal. You feel better though, as if your resting level of happiness got a boost, and it appears it will stay high for a while before it fades slowly. After a short celebration of “having done it”, we swim our way to the rocks near the Maggi-point. It was quite an experience, everyone agreed.

Why did I do it?

If you have an itch and you don’t scratch it, you have a miserable time for the short term. I’d have been burdened by the question, “Why didn’t I do it?” So I had to scratch the itch. And tbh, irrespective of the consequences, the moments while you’re scratching the itch are pretty satisfying.

Shall I jump again?

Maybe sometime in future, but definitely not today. It was as if we have had our fill (the itch was gone), and doing it again would have negligible impact on our state of mind. So we decide to relax, enjoy Maggi-chai, and the peaceful view. The world felt calm and serene.

All this happened in 10 minutes, and most of it happened in a span of one minute. But for sure, that one minute seemed much longer while things were unfolding, and that’s the magic of doing something unexpected.

Will I never do it again?

I might, but the first time is always special!

Now the boring part, Why this story?

In my head, I find this experience strikingly similar to the typical experience of choosing an unconventional career path (artist, entrepreneur, etc.). The itch is why some people did what they did. Sometimes externals convey “itch scratching” is in terms of phrases like following your passion, calling, finding meaning, changing the world, and making an impact. But I feel most of the times, those things only make sense in hindsight or come into the picture at later stages, and in the moment of doing the thing, it might be nothing more than just an itch.

So while someone’s career is unfolding typically, they can get an itch. You can try not to scratch that itch for a while, but some people eventually give up and go for it. The career jump is the hardest part, and you’re overflowing with many questions and doubts, so much so that it becomes practically infeasible to conclude rationally. So after thinking for a little, and usually making peace with the worst case, you invoke your emotions (i.e. listen to your heart, i.e. follow your gut), and if there’s a green signal (which is usually the fact that your future self won’t be able to answer “why didn’t I do it” question), you go for it.

Once you make the jump, you lose stability for a while; the world seems different, you take a while to adapt. There’s turbulence; things become worse faster than you imagined and improve slower than you want to. You are overwhelmed. But within your heart, you know that best you can do is stay put and keep going. Because you know the worst case, and you’re aware of the potential best case. And since there’s sunk cost now, you know you don’t want to give up until you’ve exhausted all your ways. That’s what keeps you going in the toughest of times.

Of course, there’s some amount of craziness to it. There are spectators (your well-settled friends and family members) who might not have the itch or not have it strong enough. Your jump won’t make sense to them. They’d feel you’ve become a different person. They’d feel that you’re deliberately putting yourself through misery and maybe worried about you not make it to the top. But they don’t know it was never about making it to the top in the first place (that this risk was always known to you and it’s not your blind spot); it was always about avoiding the regret of not having scratched the itch.

And here’s the weird thing, when you have a strong itch of doing something, your life would change either way. If you don’t make the jump, you live with the itch forever. If you jumped, give your all, then irrespective of whether you make it to the top, you satisfy your itch or at least make it much milder to live with. If you make it to the top, the jump would be worth it in the eyes of everyone. Otherwise, it depends on how badly your downward journey unfolds and how you act along the way!